THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL - SCREEN and RADIO
Sunday, February 6, 1938
Exploding Those Popular Myths About Bing
Crooner Crosby Is Pegged as a Lazy Chap Who Sings by Ear and Buys His Clothes on Impulse. This Chat With His Mother Shows What a Poor Characterization That Is for a Busy, Canny and Highly Energetic Person
By Lucie Neville
HOLLYWOOD says Bing Crosby is a lazy guy who gets all the breaks if you were to accuse Bing himself, he’d only grin and amiably agree.
But there aren’t any four-leaf clovers in the Crosby shamrock patch, according to his mother. She says he hasn’t a lazy bone in his body and what people call hick is hard work.
She would correct a number of other popular misconception about her son: That he doesn’t know anything about music, that he prefers noisy clothes, that he’s happy-go-lucky, how he got his nickname. It’s Bing’s business of course, if he wants to let people keep on thinking such things she lets you understand. Bing’s and Larry’s business, rather, for the older Larry is his movie star brother’s agent and business manager and the official spokesman for Bing Crosby. Inc., Lid.
“YOU’LL have the story about his nickname right for the first in history.” Mrs. Crosby said with some amusement “I’ve heard the one about his being called “Bing” because the Bingville comics were in our paper and he always read them. And I know the one that most people believe—that we called him that because he was always playing cowboy and Indian and yelling “Bing! Bing!” but neither of them is true.
“He was just 3 when we moved to Spokane, and a lively youngster. The children he played with nicknamed him “Bingo”-just because he was so full of pep. And pretty soon they shortened it to “Bing.” He liked it himself—I don’t think he likes his real name very well, which is Harry Lillis after his father. The “Bing” stuck through school and college. I’ve called him anything except Harry, though lately I’ve got into calling him “Bing” sometimes, as everybody else does. But he always signs his letters to me “Harry.”
BING looks a great deal like his mother the steady, deep-set blue eyes, the prominent nose and clear skin. In spite of years that show in her light gray hair, she carries herself with military straightness and vigor. When she posed for photographs (a special favor as she never has appeared in her son’s public life) she said candidly, “I’d rather they’d look good than look like me.”
“Harry doesn’t like to pose for pictures
<Bing Crosby, whose “Music Hall” program is heard Thursdays at 9 a. m. over WTMJ, placed first as favorite male popular singer and favorite male popular singer and favorite master of ceremonies in The Journal’s eight annual radio poll. Further results may be found on page 10 of his section.>
and the studio has an awful time cornering him when they need new ones.” She said. “The say he’s the only one in the business who just comes in the door and says “All right shoot”
He’s just as unconcerned about his clothes, too, his mother said. Hollywood gives him the palm for being its dizziest dresser, a typical Crosby ensemble being a canary yellow sweater a checked cap, a Highland plaid jacket and brown slacks.
It tells a story about him, that be said to his valet “he hasn’t one” “Bring me a brown suit—the one with the grey vest and the blue pants.”
Perhaps Hollywood underestimates Bing’s shrewdness in not being a snappy dresser. It may be a sort of protective coloration in a community where a correct morning cant makes citizens stop and stare to see what you’re advertising “The clothes help a lot in keeping him from being recognized,” his mother pointed out. “He’s had pretty good luck so far until somebody yell, Hello Bing; and then they’re after him.
“The reason he doesn’t dress for broadcasts is because he’s too busy. He goes straights through the afternoon with rehearsal, then the broadcast and eats dinner afterward. People don’t realize that, when they say he’s sloppy and lazy—Harry—that is Bing –is up at 7 every morning, and except for going to the fights, he’d like to be in bed at 9 if he could. When he walks, he covers more ground than two people, and he’s dashing around all day.”
WHAT spare time he has is spent on the ranch, Mrs. Crosby said. He has a large place near Del Mar and his stock breeding is becoming an important part at his business. He will have 12 horses entered at Santa Anita this year, one of them winner of a Bay Mendows Stake, which may make Hollywood take Bing’s racers more seriously.
Any other time is spent in sports or on the golf course of Lakeside Country club, near his home. “He’s club champion, you know,” his mother said proudly. “And he plays tennis very well, though he only took that up two years ago. He’s fine swimmer, too.
“When we (the senior Crosbys) moved here from Spokane, I brought some of his swimming medals I’d found which he won when he was 12 or 14. He was tickled to death because he could show them to Dick Arlen. You’d think those two were the biggest liars on earth when they get to bragging about what they to be at least 150 years old to have done all they claim.”
SIX of the Crosby’s seven children were born on the west coast. Lawrence (called Larry), with the second son, Everett, and H. L. Crosby, sr., are the officers, directors and stockholders of the firm of Bing Crosby, Inc. Ltd. The third son, Ted (christened Edward John), still lies in Spokane; he paired Bing’s twin boys with twin girls. Bing came next, then Catherine, Mary, Rose and Bob, whose orchestra is adding to the Crosby fame.
The family moved from Tacoma to Spokane when Bing was 3 and they needed the four bedrooms and sleeping porch that were in the big house just off the Gonzaga university campus. Mrs. Crosby is still unreconciled to the loss of her huge cellar, despite her pretty new house in the Toluca Lake district in Hollywood.
“It was one of the most important rooms, and the bigger your basement, the better your house was,” she said “We had to have room. And I never knew how many extra I’d have for meals or how many would come downstairs in the morning.”
“I’m old-fashioned in some things,” she said, but with no apology in her tone, “and one of them has always been waiting to know where my children are at night. Ours were always at home, except when they were given special permission to spend the night at a friend’s where I knew the mother was as careful as I was. We kept sort of open house and the children were free to bring their friends any time they pleased.”
WHEN people say that Bing doesn’t know anything about music and hint that he can’t even read it, his mother remembers the Sunday nights the family gathered around the piano.
“We had all the musical instruments and the whole family sang,” she said. “Harry studied with a very good teacher for two years and sang in several concerts. That was when he was still in knee-pants and even then he had an outstanding voice. But we decided it was time to stop right then, if he was going to have a good voice later on.”
“He played the drums then and when he organized his own band in college he began sing again you remember, the drummer nearly always was the vocalist, too, in those days? Then the biggest theater in town hired him to sing in the evenings. They had a trio and he made the fourth for a quartet. They put on sketches and little skits and Harry always had the comedy parts. He could always get a laugh, he can now when he wants to in a crowd, but he never clowns at home.”
“I guess you know the real about his singing,” she concluded. “It’s been told so many times.”
It is a familiar story to Bing’s fans how he and AJ Rinker, a college chum who played the piano, toured the vaudeville and night clubs, finally attracting the attention of Paul Whiteman who signed them for band. Harry Barris, another vocalist, shortly after made the trio that comprised Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys for three years.
After the picture, “King of Jazz.” Crosby began to make a name for himself: best-selling records and a dozen talkies paved the way to radio.
HE WAS a little stubborn lately about Paramount’s changing the name of his current picture from “The Badge of Policeman O’Roon” to “Doctor Rhythm.” Crosby thought it might be a crack at his recently awarded degree of doctor of philosophy in music, which Gonzaga university conferred on him last October.
“He was really proud of that,” his mother said. “He told me he had a hard time to keep from crying a couple of times when they were giving him the degree. And he was awfully pleased with the football blanket. That was the first time they’d ever given one to anybody who wasn’t on the team.”
It is not generally known in Hollywood, though the Spokane papers carried the story, that Bing footed the bill for his heine-town celebration. He spent about $5,000 to take all his entertainers with him, to show the homefolk a big time and went to great trouble arranging the radio program to be broadcast from Gonzaga.
The $20,000 that he collected in admissions to the broadcast was given immediately to the university.
Neither Bing nor his mother had a single word to say about any of this; it is one of the many unpublicized generosities that make him so universally liked.
Though he was justifiably proud of the degree, he told Spokane interviewers, “I was lucky, that’s all.”
“He’s that way about everything,” his mother said.
<Bing, age 1 year, with mother>
<As a Whiteman rhythm boy>
<With Gary Erans Crosby, his eldest son>
<Mrs. Bing and tocms>
<As attractive couple, these Crosbys>